It’s hard to make a connection with your parent once they’re in the later, more severe, stages of dementia. Many caregivers grow restless, impatient, and even resentful. Becoming the caregiver changes the dynamic between child and parent already, and is enough to put strain on any relationship, no matter how intimate, but that’s all the more reason to change your tactics and adapt.
It can be hard to find activities for parents suffering dementia, but far from impossible. A good rule of thumb is, if you can engage their senses, it’s a good activity. Of course, you’ve probably heard of sense memory and muscle memory before, this is the kind of activity you want to do with your elderly parent, something that engages them on a visual, auditory, sensory, or olfactory level.
For instance, singing songs, hymns, or even just listening to old favorites is a great way to connect. Studies have already proven that music transcends many of the problems of dementia, so where you can incorporate songs, do so.
This is a good sedentary activity to engage in with your elderly parent. Point to old photos of them and you and your kids; these visual cues help keep them grounded and are good reminders for those fading.
Not all activities need to be done in privacy or sitting still. Take your parent on a walk through rose gardens or (depending on the season) pumpkin patches. This will engage their sense of smell which can recall some dormant memories — thereby exercising the mind.
You can cook their favorite foods or shop downtown for their favorite sweets. Again, things that they enjoy and are familiar with will help them remember and bring those pieces of your elder to the forefront.
As mentioned before, muscle memory is another sense to pick up. There are countless stories of dementia patients who, when you put them in front of a familiar object (like knitting needles or a piano), they start to do the activity. Their body may remember better than their minds or better than they can express. Find those skills your parents have and engage with them!
Meet with Animals
Animals elicit incredible emotional responses from people (not just seniors). Chances are high that your elderly parent suffering dementia has been to the zoo or owned a pet at some time during their childhood. Go to a zoo, or maybe adopt an animal. Many assisted living communities allow pets on campus and furry friends have been known to have therapeutic effects on people.
It’s not easy to re-engage with seniors suffering dementia, but accept the changing dynamic and adapt to it. Many of these activities may bring you closer or even recall memories that you’d forgotten. Engage with them because they need you now more than ever.